Round table on protecting the rights of sex-workers. Analysis of the messages, impressions and next steps

On September 6, 2019 in the Big Hall of the Secretariat of Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, the round table “Protecting the rights of sex workers: sources, problems and solutions” took place. The representatives of Ukrainian and international human rights organizations, the community of sex-workers of Ukraine, representatives of the MoI and National Police of Ukraine participated in the round table.

The round table participants discussed the problems of the current system of “counteracting prostitution”, mentioned its negative impact on the situation with sexually transmissible diseases, including HIV/AIDS, as stigmatizing of sex workers by the law enforcement bodies, healthcare workers and society as a whole lead to sex-work “shadowing”, creation of corruption schemes in the law enforcement bodies and human trafficking criminal schemes.

This problem is not unique for Ukraine. International experience demonstrates that criminalization and partial criminalization of both sex-workers, and their clients, or just clients preserves a status-quo of corruption and crime rate, severe HIV/AIDs epidemic.

During the round table it was mentioned that the issue of sex-work remains stigmatized in the society. Absence of state policy regulating the issues of sex-work both in the aspect of its decriminalization and in social and economic aspects, to a certain extent, contributes to that. This policy shall be based on open wide-scale dialogue with the representatives of the sex-workers’ community – as the experience demonstrates, the best decisions are taken when the principle “Nothing for us without us!” is applied.

Main messages of the round table

“When the state stops treating sex-workers as criminal, we’ll become partners and will be able to help in detecting human trafficking and exploitation crimes”, – stressed Natalia Isaeva, Director of the Charitable Organization “Legalife-Ukraine” at the start of the event.

The Chief Editor of the official portal of the Charitable Organization “Legalife-Ukraine” Natalia Dorofeeva officially presented new internet portal devoted to the issues of sex-workers’ rights protection and urged the MoI representatives to explore this resource for awareness raising purposes.

Natalia Dorofeeva, Svitlana Moroz and Oleg Kolomiets

Artem Kryschenko, Head of Human Trafficking Counteraction Department of the National Police of Ukraine, stressed that his Department is open to dialogue and cooperation and presented to the participants 10-minute work report.

The Director of the Alliance for Public Health Pavlo Skala named the Article 181 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offences as the rudiment of the USSR, and called for its immediate revocation and mentioned that some time ago in Ukraine there had been legislative provisions prohibiting currency transactions and “buggery”.

The Chairman of the Board of Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS Svitlana Moroz stressed on the need of sex-work decriminalization, which would help to decrease the HIV incidence rate by 33%.

Oleg Kolomiets, the analyst lawyer of the Ukrainian Economic Freedoms Foundation and the expert of the working group of the “Servant of People” party on the development of new Law on Regulating Sex-Work in Ukraine congratulated all participants with the start of open dialogue between the human right defenders, representatives of the sex-workers’ community and law enforcement bodies, and called for cooperation in drafting new legislation.

The sex-workers also voiced their proposals at the event as to the new law on Regulating Sex Work. To the opinion of the sex-workers it shall contain the following provisions:

  1. Sex-work only for full-aged persons;
    2. Only legally capable persons can get involved into sex-work;
    3. A person can get involved into sex-work individually or jointly with other sex-workers;
  2. The sex-workers’ activities can be organized by a manager, whose activities shall be licensed; sex-workers shall not be dependent on a manager, he/she is a technical staff for organizing space and security;
  3. Sex-worker can be registered as private entrepreneur to pay taxes and have relevant social guarantees equal with other private entrepreneurs.
Natalia Isaeva and Olena Fis’kova (both from CO “Legalife-Ukraine”) and Daniil Yurchenko (from the Office of the Ombudsmen of Ukraine)

Besides, there is a proposal that part of the paid taxes of the sex-workers shall be accumulated in the special fund to finance the program of support for those who are leaving sex-work.

Also to the opinion of the sex-workers the state can regulate:
1. Places, where the sex-services can be provided;
2. Management, concluding agreements with sex-workers;
3. Work of the law enforcement bodies;
4. Work of the social workers;
5. Restriction of the sex-services advertising.
The main request of the Round table participants: to revoke legislative rudiment – administrative liability for sex-work (Article 181-1 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offences).

Participants’ impressions after the event:

Coordinator of UMDPL monitoring campaigns Sergiy Pernykoza:

“Today the representatives of the National Police were rather open and were not keeping silence, as always, but talked and what is even more important – they listened. At least, they were very interested in the topic of revoking Article 181-1 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offences – this help to release their time for real human trafficking counteraction.

Regarding immediate steps – surely it is necessary to revoke Article 181-1 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offences. It is harmful both for people and for police. At the same time comprehensive awareness raising campaign is needed on the correct way of police communication with sex-workers. In the first place it shall be a partnership dialogue, and not arrogant or scornful talk!”

The chairman of the Charitable Organization “Legalife-Ukraine” Olena Fis’kova:

“The main thing is that this was an open dialogue. It happened. Evidently the follow up working meetings are needed, where we will discuss a lot of issues regarding sex-workers’ rights protection at the legislative level. But I liked openness and readiness for dialogue on the part of the National Police. As to the proposal from “Servant of People” – we accepted the invitation for cooperation on the new law”.

The head of the regional departments of All-Ukrainian Network of PLHIV “100% Life” Valeria Rachynska:

“This was very constructive. It was unexpected for me that the National Police prepared presentation regarding its activities – this is the evidence demonstrating that they are ready for dialogue and certain work is underway. The situation with MoI is more complicated, but I am optimistic and still believe that all libertarian moods of the new authorities will be preserved and this will help us to reform the legislation not only in the sphere of sex-work but also in the sphere of decriminalization of medical cannabis use, legalization of same-sex marriage – in all spheres that are drivers for fighting HIV/AIDS.

Another issue is that new authorities inform us about amendments to the legislation in the last moment – I mean the draft Law on regulating sex-work – when it is practically ready for submission to the Parliament. Such practice shall be changed.”

Annex. UHHRU analysis of the situation with sex-workers’ rights protection in Ukraine

Ukraine shall fulfill international obligations in the context of the improvement of the situation with observing the rights of adults, which conscientiously made the choice in favor of the sex-work. We are talking, in the first place, about United Nations’ documents, and in particular:

The Charter of the United Nations, where the peoples of the United Nations affirmed their belief in key human rights, in dignity and worth of the human person and equality of women and men and decided to facilitate the social progress and improvement of the conditions of life with greater freedom;

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stipulating the equality of all people to the law and the right, without any difference, to be equally protected by the law, to equal protection from any discrimination; protection from groundless interference in personal life; the right to social protection and exercising rights necessary for supporting his/her dignity and for his/her personal development in economic and social spheres; right to work, free choice of the work, to fair and favorable working conditions and to protection from unemployment;

International covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, committing the states, participating in this covenant, to recognize the right to work, including the right of each person to get the opportunity to earn a living doing the job freely chosen by a person or to which he/she freely agreed, and to make necessary steps to exercising this right; to recognize everybody’s rights to the highest possible level of physical and mental health.

Revocation of punitive legislation for getting involved in sex-work is recognized at the level of UN to be one of the most effective means of counteracting AIDS. Thus in the UN Secretary-General’s Report on implementation of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS (April 2016, A/70/811.75) (point 75) it is mentioned that in order to fight AIDS epidemic by 2030, and to achieve these objectives the member-states and all stakeholders shall immediately implement the following recommendations: not to forget anybody and ensure access to the services by revoking punitive laws, policy and policies violating human rights, including criminalization of similar sex relations, variety of gender and social orientation, use of drugs and sex-services, non-disclosure of the HIV-status, infecting with and transmitting HIV, related to HIV-status restrictions on travel and mandatory check, laws on age of consent to marriage, restricting the right of teenagers to health protection, and all forms of violence regarding all groups of population.

Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms defines everyone’s right to private life, and protection from unlawful interference on behalf of the state bodies in exercising of this right; prohibits discrimination.

Activities on regulating sex-work shall, apart mentioned above, take into account the conclusions of the studies on the problems of sex-work, and in particular:

  1. The scale of sex-industry in absolute terms depends, to greater extent, on social and economic conditions of the population and some other local characteristics (religion, traditions, gender equality etc.), rather than on whether the sex-work is permitted or not by the state;
  2. The regime of decriminalization is the most favorable for securing sex-workers from violence (especially violence by law enforcement bodies) and for control of HIV and STD. Now such regime is applied in practice only in New Zealand and Australian New South Wales State. In USA also more and more states are inclined to implement sex-work decriminalization;
  3. Effective implementation of the regime of regulated legalization is only possible in the states with high potential of sound implementation of the laws and non-corrupt and transparent law enforcement and court systems;
  4. Regulation of sex-work issues shall take place with mandatory involvement of the representatives of sex-workers’ community.

The following organizations already supported sex-work decriminalization in the world: Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, Anti-Slavery International, Amnesty International and International Labor Organization.

The photo report

The event was held by Charitable Organization “Legalife-Ukraine” together with Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Office of Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights with the support of International Renaissance Foundation under the Public Health Program, AIDSFONDS under the BTG & PITCH projects, and also in the framework of Dialogue and Dissent program of Netherland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The overall strategic objective – “To fight AIDS epidemic in the countries, which suffered the most from HIV, paying special attention to the key groups of population, and also to women and girls”.

Text: Olena Semyorkina (UHHRU), Sergiy Myasoedov (UHHRU), Yana Kazmirenko (CO “Legalife-Ukraine”)

Picture: Nataliya Dorofeeva (CO “Legalife-Ukraine”), Sergiy Myasoedov (UHHRU)

UHHRU provides information and advisory support to advocacy activities on decriminalization of sex-work in Ukraine in the framework of the project “Development of the legal network for protection of the people living with HIV/AIDS, representatives of key PLHIV communities and persons ill with TB” with the financial support of the Charitable organization “All-Ukrainian Network of the People Living with HIV/AIDS” in the framework of implementation of the project “Releasing the Burden of TB and HIV infection through creation of the open access to timely and quality diagnostics and treatment of the TB and its resistant forms, expanding evidence based prevention, diagnostic and treatment of HIV infection, and creation of stable and sustainable health protection systems”, which is implemented with the financial support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. 


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